Iconic singer Aretha Franklin was beloved by audiences in Las Vegas and around the world for her powerful voice and songs. However, when she passed away in August of advanced pancreatic cancer at the age of 76, she reportedly did not have a will or trust in place. As a result, her four sons have filed a document with the probate court, listing themselves as interested parties in the distribution of the estate. In addition, the singer’s niece also requested that the court appoint her to serve as the estate’s personal representative.
In Michigan, when a person who is not married dies without a will, his or her children receive equal shares of the estate. The singer’s lawyer, who represented her in matters related to her songs, contracts, intellectual property and performances, said that he had advised her over the years to complete an estate plan, but she always delayed dealing with the issue to a later date. By preparing an estate plan including a will as well as trusts, much of a person’s estate can pass to beneficiaries without going through the delays and costly fees of probate court.
When people die without an estate plan in place, existing family tensions can be exacerbated. People may file competing claims in probate court, especially when the value of the estate, like Franklin’s, is expected to be high. Because the estate will be dealt with in court, Franklin’s wealth will become a matter of public record.
Estate planning is particularly critical for people with significant wealth and complicated accounts. However, it can be just as important for people of modest means. A lawyer might work with people to prepare key documents like wills, trusts, powers of attorney and advanced medical directives, which may provide peace of mind and avoid future potential family conflicts.